The history of The Playhouse is a story of friendship, camaraderie, joy, hard work, and perserverance. Since its first production of THE TURN OF THE SCREW, The Playhouse has been blessed with the contribution of 1,402,050 hours of dedicated service from 36,850 extraordinary volunteers.
Sunset Playhouse is a not-for-profit community theatre organization, incorporated in 1954. A building fund drive was launched, enlisting the support of the entire metropolitan Milwaukee area, and in March of 1960, the doors of The Playhouse were opened to the public.
Sunset was the first theater in the state of Wisconsin to be built entirely by a community theater group. Sunset's air conditioned auditorium has a seating capacity of 299, with a large well-equipped proscenium stage. The offices, lobby, Furlan Auditorium (named after Alan Furlan, Sunset Playhouse’s Artistic Director for nearly 30 years), Studio Theatre, catering kitchen, storage areas and rest rooms, stage and shop occupy the main floor. The Green Room, dressing rooms and Esposito Rehearsal Hall, and costume shop are located on the lower level. Offices, board room, costume storage, light and sound booth and video taping facilities are on the upper level.
Sunset is governed by a Board of Directors elected by the membership. The Theater staff consists of a Managing Director, Technical Director, Administrative Assistant, Education Director, Patron Services Manager, Bookkeeper and several Box Office Associates. An active and diverse pool of volunteers work in conjunction with these paid professionals. Sunset does a variety of eight main stage shows a year, (comedies, mysteries, musicals, and dramas) plus a five show music series called Musical Mainstage, a three show cabaret series called SideNotes, and a three show children’s series called bug in a rug.
In the 1950's, a small theatre group from St. Mary's in Elm Grove had been leading a transitory life doing their shows in different venues. Eventually they managed to buy some swampy land with an old barn on it. A little construction and Sunset Playhouse opened its doors in March of 1960.
The founders of The Playhouse didn't have the money to build the facility they wanted. In fact, the building was little more than a concrete box. However, the building was the ticket to providing the levels of quality and service the community deserved. Without having to worry about conflicting with school events or janitor schedules, the new home would quickly become the bedrock upon which The Playhouse would continue to grow and attract thousands of volunteers.
With four additions over forty years, The Playhouse has come a long way since the first productions, when the audience sat on folding chairs. The 1968 addition expanded the lobby and allowed the business office to move out of the basement. In 1973, the scene shop was able to move upstairs, with a large furniture and prop storage room below. The lobby and offices grew again in 1981, doubling the size of the rest rooms. And in 1999, with the biggest move since the construction of the original building, a studio theatre was added, with a new rehearsal hall, dressing room and a completely rebuilt and expanded lobby.
Of course our greatest asset has always been our volunteers and our paid staff. The three full time and several part time employees create the environment that provides the high level of quality product that is enjoyed by the patrons and attracts some of the best volunteers in the Milwaukee area.
As the building has grown, so has service The Playhouse has been able to return to the community. And the public interest has been growing. Not only are new groups using the Studio Theatre/Reception Room to host theatre parties, the Studio Theatre/Reception Room also holds the SideNotes and bug in a rug series and provides room for the Sunset Playhouse School for the Arts classes.